Melanie Gall stars as Deanna Durbin in her one-person show Ingenue.
Melanie Gall stars as Deanna Durbin in her one-person show Ingenue.

Judy Garland may be the icon and household name, but in the 1930s, “Winnipeg’s Sweetheart” Deanna Durbin was the bigger star.

Getting her break starring opposite Garland in the 1936 film short Every Sunday, Durbin’s film career would eventually make her highest-paid female screen star in Hollywood.

“It’s hard to understand today exactly how famous she was. She was like The Beatles, the frenzy that surrounded her,” says playwright and performer Melanie Gall. “Nowadays, it’s easy to understate how important she was at the time.”

As her star began to diminish, though, Durbin exited Hollywood at the age of 29 to retire in Paris.

It is from France where Alberta-based Gall sets her one-person stage musical Ingenue. Told through the lens of a reporter who visits her in retirement, the show unravels the forgotten tale of Durbin’s lifelong friendship and rivalry with Judy Garland.

“She was an amazing girl and an amazing woman, and one of the most amazing things was that in 1949, she walked away from all the fame and Hollywood, moved to France and lived a long and happy life,” continues Gall.

Gall’s musical is based on research undertaken over two years and more than 4,000 newspaper clippings from the 1930s and 40s.

Including songs such as “It’s Foolish But It’s Fun,” and “Il Bacio,” it is a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that gives a hint of what it might have been like if Durbin hadn’t refused the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

“I had always planned to do a show about her, but then I started doing the research and said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, this person is amazing, and she’s been forgotten'”, says Gall. “People who remember Deanna Durbin, love old Hollywood, nostalgia, the history of movies and that golden era will love the show. Also, Judy Garland fans will enjoy it, as the show is about her too.”

Gall is also in the process of writing a biography of Durbin.

Surrey Civic Theatres will present a free pre-recorded performance of Ingenue online via Facebook and YouTube on September 3 at 7:00 pm. Visit surrey.ca for more information.